Football season fizzled out
For the second straight season, high school football ended somewhat abrubtly around here.
Maybe we should have suspected it.
A lot of area fans thought Southern Columbia was going to make the season last into mid-December, and it says here that the Tigers will eventually be seen as the number two Class A team in the state. But their 19-14 loss to Old Forge in the first round of the state tournament was both surprising and not so surprising.
Surprising because I seriously think this was one of the really good Southern teams. Not surprising though, because Old Forge was pretty darn good itself, and because the Tigers may have been too good for their own good.
The Tigers simply weren't challenged at all in the regular season. They got a bit of a challenge by Bloomsburg in the district semifinals but even that game ended in the mercy rule. All 12 of their wins did. By comparison, Old Forge coach Michael Schuback noted after beating the Tigers that his team had two real battles against Dunmore and another against Carbondale.
When teams get in big games, it helps having played in some.
That situation should be remedied a bit next year when Southern is put back into Division II of the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference. Games against teams such as Lewisburg and Danville will certainly be better postseason preparation than games against Montgomery.
For the record, Southern probably would have beaten Lewisburg and Danville this year, but games against teams of that caliber would have gotten the Tigers much more ready for a physical team like Old Forge.
When you take Southern out of the mix, this was simply not a banner year in these parts. The other four area teams were a combined 18-25 (17-20 when not playing each other).
Mount Carmel was 7-4 and did lose in the first round of the district AA tournament to eventual champion Troy. But the Red Tornadoes got a lot of mileage of out of the talent they had. Coaches are always under the microscope at Mount Carmel, and head coach Carm DeFrancesco was criticized by some for his team's 8-5 record in 2012 as underachieving. If that's the case, then this year's team overachieved.
North Schuylkill finished 8-4 and missed winning its second straight Eastern Conference Class AA title by a point. The Spartans, after changing head coaches, never really adapted to new head coach Wally Hall's flexbone offense. Eventually, the Spartans went back to the power I, and got themselves into the postseason and played well. But they gave away a win to Mount Carmel, and you've got to think they're wondering what might have been.
Line Mountain had its worst season since going 3-7 in 2001. The Eagles knew they would be in for a rebuilding year, and lost four games (Millersburg, Juniata, Newport and Tri-Valley) by a total of 15 points. But even had they won the four games, or even two of them, they simply wouldnt' have been that much better a team than they actually were.
Finally, there was 0-10 Shamokin. First-year head coach Yaacov Yisrael knew he was going to be in for some rough sledding but the guess is that he didn't see a goose egg in Ws coming. Strangely though, the Indians' season is kind of a microcosm of how football was in District Four this season.
They didn't win a game but they were competitive with just about every team they played, if not on the scoreboard, at least situationnally until things got out of hand. Southern was the only team the Indians played who I'd have said they had absolutely no chance of beating on any given night.
Selinsgrove, Milton, Lewisburg and Shikellamy all pulled away late for healthy wins, but the Indians were actually in all those games, at least against Milton and Lewisburg. A case can be made that they probably could have beaten Mifflinburg, Mount Carmel, Jersey Shore and even Danville, with a break here and there.
So yes, they were 0-10. But there were about eight playoff teams that frankly, weren't all that much better.
The Indians likely will struggle next season, as well. They had quite a few seniors. Their lack of size , especially once they got past the first team, was eye opening.
Fans around here like to talk about coal region football and all that means. That pride is great but it should also come with a reality check. School districts such as Shamokin and Mount Carmel simply don't have the talent base they once did with the area's aging population. Area fans would do well to readjust their thinking and just enjoy the game for what it is - a good Friday night's entertainment.
(Chuck Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item)